• synonyms


[oh-kuh m]
  1. loose fiber obtained by untwisting and picking apart old ropes, used for caulking the seams of ships.
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Origin of oakum

before 1000; Middle English okome, Old English ācuma, variant of ācumba, literally, offcombings, equivalent to ā- separative prefix (see a-3) + -cumba (see comb1)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for oakum

Historical Examples of oakum

  • Jack dipped the oakum in the slush-bucket which hung against the main-mast.

    Graham's Magazine Vol XXXIII No. 2 August 1848


  • One of them oakum eaters, that s what he was—an oakum eater.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  • When he was home from sea he and I stuck together like hot pitch and oakum.

    The Portygee

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  • Ef she's spewed her oakum he'd better git to his pumps mighty quick.

    "Captains Courageous"

    Rudyard Kipling

  • "Dead sore on oakum as a food," laughed Dan, grinning broadly.

British Dictionary definitions for oakum


  1. loose fibre obtained by unravelling old rope, used esp for caulking seams in wooden ships
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Word Origin for oakum

Old English ācuma, variant of ācumba, literally: off-combings, from ā- off + -cumba, from cemban to comb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for oakum


"loose fiber obtained from taking apart old hemp ropes," early 15c., from Old English acumba "tow, oakum, flax fibers separated by combing," literally "what is combed out," from Proto-Germanic *us-kambon (cf. Old High German achambi); first element cognate with Old English a- "away, out, off;" second element from stem of cemban "to comb," from camb "a comb;" from PIE *gembh- "tooth, nail" (see comb (n.)).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper